Winter Solstice 2017: Meanings and Celebration Ideas From Witches, Druids and Astrologers

druid winter solstice
A druid celebrates Winter Solstice 2016 at Stonehenge. Getty Images

When the sun directly hits the Tropic of Capricorn on December 21 at 11:28 am EST, it will mark the deepest and longest part of winter. The winter solstice, in a literal sense, marks the shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere. But it's a scientific phenomenon steeped in cultural context. Historically, the solstice's significance has been tied most intimately to witches, pagans, and druid communities who draw their beliefs and rituals from Norse, Celtic, Welsh, Icelandic cultures, or from indigenous people in what is now Canada.

Long ago, the winter solstice was an extreme enough shift in weather and lifestyle that it merited a spiritual explanation, and the stories written by our ancestors birthed rituals still practiced today.

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A Winter Solstice celebration in Colombia. Getty Images

Where do people celebrate?

The most famous winter solstice celebration is led by Druids at the prehistoric Stonehenge monument in Wiltshire, England, which was built with a sightline pointed directly at the solstice sunset.

Druids believe the solstice marks the rebirth of the sun. Prehistoric peoples watched winter slowly lengthen each night for weeks, which caused a great deal of anxiety. Celebrating the winter solstice was a way to encourage the sun to reverse its course, remember its gift to mankind and slowly become kinder and more plentiful to the earth until spring. For Druids, celebrating the winter solstice is a recognition that things are difficult and a call for hope that everything will soon improve.

Other celebrations occur across Europe. In Iceland, where more than half the population believes in elves and magical creatures, locals celebrate "jólablót," a pagan holiday marking the winter solstice with a feast. In Nova Scotia, some celebrate the solstice with a lantern walk. In Ireland, many enter a lottery to win the chance to stand around the Newgrange stone and bang drums to greet the sun.

winter solstice canada
A winter solstice celebration in Canada. Getty Images

Why is 2017's solstice significant?

In 2017, the winter solstice has created extra anxiety among some spiritual groups because it coincides with two astrological points of interest: the end of Mercury retrograde, and the first day the sun (ruler of the Zodiac system) exits Sagittarius (an adventurous, impulsive sign) and enters Capricorn (a steady sign linked to power, the patriarchy, the law).

In other words, we're moving out of the frying pan and into the fire—astrologically speaking.

Even if you're not inclined to read your horoscope, you may know that believers say Mercury being "in retrograde" means a breakdown in communication and general confusion and feelings of unrest. To move from that murkiness into a period of Capricorn (a no-nonsense sign) dominance within 24 hours doesn't leave much room for hope.

That's what will occur during the winter solstice—the longest and coldest night of the year—and it has made people from many spiritual backgrounds dread December 21, 2017.

winter solstice woman
A woman attends the druid celebration of the winter solstice at Stonehenge. Getty Images

What can I do?

So how do you avoid all the turmoil the winter solstice might bring? Astrologers believe that we are affected by the movement of planets and stars, and they don't necessarily believe that humans can do anything about it. Still, practical astrologers like Susan Miller are simply advocating people take it easy. During this year's solstice, Miller encourages people not to make rash decisions, not to spend large amounts of money or begin long trips.

Not everyone is anxious about the shortest day of the year, though. Many witches, Druids and pagans feel comforted by engaging in solstice-specific rituals. And because this year is the apex of a few spiritual phenomenons, we're seeing a blending of cultures as people from different backgrounds attempt to grapple with the next 24 hours.

One spell, involving a Yule log, has received a popularity boost. Traditionally, wood burned during the solstice must come from your native land, ideally received as a gift and it cannot be purchased by the person burning it. It's also customary to light the Yule log using wood from the log used the previous year. The spell is intended to greet the long night without fear, while still putting a bit of light into the world. It's more of a restorative, symbolic move than anything else, serving as a reminder that no dark situation is ever endless.

If you don't have access to a Yule log but are still interested in protecting yourself during the solstice, approximate the ritual with a candle (preferably marked with runes) and allow yourself some low-key, restorative indulgences, like working from home, moisturizing, eating some citrus, journaling or hibernating as best you can.